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In the last track, we discussed self-empathy. However, one of the toughest barriers for men to overcome is breaking down the wall of creating relationships with other men.
It might be noted gay men are six times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight counterparts, and the numbers increase exponentially during the holidays. A Department of Health study indicates that gay youth are up to six times more likely to attempt suicide than straight teens, and gay teenagers account for up to 30 percent of all teenage suicides in the nation.
As you know, our society encourages"men's talk," which I define as stereotypical, emotionless conversation between males. Often, this men's talk means men are poking fun at one another, like verbal bantering found in a locker room. Men who are more expressive may appear feminine. This femininity is a taboo in our homophobic society. As you know, traditional masculinity leaves no room for feminine traits. And what could be more feminine, our society tells us, than loving a man? Cliff, who we discussed in the previous track, is a good example of homophobia and fear of femininity.
Technique: Three Ways to Express Yourself
Cliff decided it was a good idea for him to try to express himself more. However, since he had no female relationships in his life beyond casual conversation with the check-out clerk at the grocery store, he would "open up" to one of his buddies. Cliff was at a neighborhood cook-out, talking to Barry, one of his male neighbors. He started talking about his job. Cliff expressed to Barry how he had felt uneasy at work lately and how he wasn't sure his job was right for him.
As Cliff talked, Barry appeared to be listening. However, when Cliff finished his emotional ranting, Barry walked away, calling out over his shoulder, "How about another hamburger?" Cliff told me that he felt stupid, and that he suddenly felt ashamed and embarrassed. Cliff was also puzzled as to why he was rejected by Barry.
I explained to Cliff that he had perhaps violated gender roles, and it was clear that his friend Barry had sensed this violation and had become uncomfortable. Barry may have been somewhat homophobic and thus afraid that talking to Cliff in such an open way would make him appear gay, or at least effeminate. When Cliff told me about the incident, he said he now is wary of opening up to other men.
Steps to Create Meaningful Friendships
Think of a male client you are treating who might benefit from the information that feelings can be expressed via verbal sharing, bodily manifestations, and outburst. Would it be beneficial to explore with your client the pros and cons of each? If the client feels verbal sharing to vent feelings would be beneficial, would a review of the above five steps in creating friendships be beneficial? As you know, many shame-based men are isolated and only limit their communication to emotionless, superficial "men's talk."
I stressed to Cliff that taking these steps would not be easy. Like many men, he would probably feel a little uncomfortable at various points, partly due to the homophobia that has been ingrained in men in our society. However, the satisfaction that comes from making a true friend may outweigh his anxieties.
In the next track, we will discuss creating empathy in relationships via the Fishbowl Technique.
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